Information Warfare: USAF Builds Battlefield Wi-Fi


May 18, 2008: The U.S. Air Force is trying to take the lead in developing, and controlling, the battlefield wireless Internet. The army and navy are also developing similar technologies, but for this sort of thing to work best, everyone should be able to talk to everyone else. In the past, each of the services had their own unique radio equipment, making it difficult, and often impossible, for, say, a tank battalion to talk, via radio, to air force planes overhead, or navy ships offshore. Special communications teams, equipped with radios from two or more services, were formed when such inter-service communications was really necessary.

All the services agree that a wireless military Internet, that would operate in a combat zone, would be a swell thing. But the reality is that each service selects the communications gear that suits its own requirements best. That means no one wants to give up a little capability just so they can easily communicate with another service. But new inter-service radios have been in the works for over a decade. Despite the usual (and some unusual) bureaucratic delays, work on these "joint" radios continues. But in the meantime, everyone has been improvising using satellite communications, and whatever else they can scrounge up. Satcom is expensive, but it works great. There is not enough satellite communications capacity available to let everyone, or even a lot of users, communicate. So the air force has been developing systems that enable aircraft to mainly send pictures, instant messages and voice between themselves, with the ability to link to ground units or ships as well. The air force has not decided on which of these systems it will adopt, and is trying to get the army and navy to team with them to use the same system. That's a long shot, but a good deal for all concerned if it ever happens. Wartime pressures are moving all this along more quickly, but once the wars are over, the process of selecting and implementing a battlefield Internet system will slip into the usual slow motion.


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